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NBA stars explain how ESPYS awards speech came about

The foursome’s plans to end gun violence stretch beyond The ESPYS

The ESPY Awards are best known for starting the night off with hearty jokes and painful puns delivered by an energetic host, but this year broke the mold.

On a night where athletes are awarded and honored for their accomplishments inside and outside of their athletic endeavors, NBA superstars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James took the stage in a moment of solidarity. No script was necessary for the message they wanted to convey. The speech was everything that had been on the athletes’ hearts, particularly in the wake of the recent shootings in Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas.

After an Instagram post by Anthony called on athletes to take action against social injustices, Paul, Wade, and James answered. The four texted each other in a group thread to figure out how they could use their platforms to get their messages across and encourage other athletes to join the cause.

As the four spoke on stage, word began circulating on social media platforms that the poignant speech had not been part of the original show.

The athletes explained to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and Ian Begley how they coordinated with each other to get their message across in time for the awards show.

On Monday, two days before the broadcast, a representative for James reached out to ESPN about the possibility of becoming a part of the show.

The purpose, according to a source familiar with James’ thinking, was to highlight the history of professional sports having a tradition of activism and establishing that duty of consciousness with all of the high-profile athletes in attendance.

“At this time, they felt it was important to highlight that,” the source told ESPN. “It was a call to action to honor and embrace that tradition.”

Anthony, James, Wade and Paul coordinated a cold open for the telecast, standing together onstage at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles to deliver a group speech that urged fellow athletes to use their influence to call for an end to violence.

“The system is broken, the problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new, but the urgency for change is definitely at an all-time high,” said Anthony, the New York Knicks star who has been outspoken in the wake of the high-profile shooting deaths last week of two African-American men and five Dallas police officers.

Added Wade, who recently agreed to a deal with his hometown Bulls in Chicago, where violence has surged in recent years: “The racial profiling has to stop. The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention Orlando, it has to stop. Enough. Enough is enough.”

Read more on ESPN.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.